Thursday 4 July 2019

Ancient cities - Ajanta and Ellora


 Ajanta Caves
Road to Ajanta from Aurangabad is through Maharastra State Highway 8 via Phulambri-Aland-Sillod-Ajinta-Ajanta Caves. Unruly motorcyclists, swamps created on the national highway thanks to the work in progress of road widening -by chipping off the existing road – and the rains altogether makes it an unpleasant journey. Be prepared for a bumpy ride!
The ride from the visitor centre to the entrance of caves acclimatises you for what’s ahead. Getting away from civilisation, towards calm and quietude. Ignore the uncivilised group of people creating chaos and spoiling the calmness of the place and you are in for a treat to eyes and soul. It is a marvel, how they managed to do it, many centuries ago, with minimal tools. Seems like they were highly dedicated to whatever they did. The main feature of these caves are the paintings, which range from floral to mythological interpretations. 

Rain changes the whole landscape, it was metamorphosed into a time when the Buddhist monks lived there. Waterfalls come alive from most of the cave tops gorging down with a  roar, feeding the river flowing under these caves. It’s worth the trip to understand how skilful and gifted our ancestors were. Not all the caves are accessible, so including your walk to the gorgeous viewpoints, you need to spend 4-5 hours here.

Ellora Caves
Road to Ellora from Aurangabad is butter smooth. The fascinating fort at Daulatabad is worth making a stop. The effort in planning and executing the construction is amazing. Those living inside the fort would  have felt secure and had a worry-free life. Towards the top, a dark tunnel leading up the way to citadel reminded me of the description from the book “The Buried Giant” where Kazuo Ishiguro talks about a tunnel that is set in 5th Century Britain. There is a new way to bypass some part of the dark tunnel. The short hike is worth for the sweeping views of the surrounding hills. You can also see the remaining of the fort walls and wonder at how large the place is.
Ellora is the more popular tourist attraction amongst Ajanta and Ellora. The two places are usually thought to be together or close to one another, but they are not. The terrain of Ellora is more of flat land, hence the caves are spacious and spread over. The focus is on sculptures and architecture. The carvings are intricate at places, with a few multi-storied caves, while many caves are uncomplicated with a few carved pillars in a big hall with simple Buddha statues. There is a lot of walking, to cover all the caves. For those who can’t walk much, there is bus service to some of the caves, which otherwise requires a lot of walk on the tarred road or the short hike along the hill. 

More tourists mean noise and nuisance. Off-season, weekday crowd was not forgiving, as there were noisy youngsters who came there to merely have fun and enjoy their echoes inside the caves. Cave number 16 at the main entrance is the most popular of all the caves. Some of the caves have very good, mesmerising sculptures of Buddha and those related to Buddhism. Hindu caves are more ornate, while the Jain ones are very minimalist. While returning to Aurangabad stop by the tomb of Aurangazeb at Khuldabad. For tea maniacs, a stop at Lukman ka Dhaba, is a must. The rich tea is full of flavour and the place is so popular, that people drive from Aurangabad to have a cup of tea here.

Tuesday 2 July 2019

City of Gates - Aurangabad

The diligence with which IRCTC manages to delay the trains is just mind-boggling. Chit-chatting and munching on junk we sat through the eventful thirty-odd hour journey. In recent times, travel meant a road trip on the bike. Instead of the speed and frantic nature of riding, it was a welcome change to unwind and enjoy the slow pace of backpacking. 

Alighting at Ahmednagar, we were welcomed by pleasant weather with drizzle.  Ahmednagar is a small town, with a heavy military presence. At the train station, it is no trouble to get a shared auto to transport bus stand – most buses stop at both Maliwada and Tarakpur bus stand. Boarding an ordinary state transport bus (Rs.145, 2.5 hours) to Aurangabad, we soared on the smooth four-lane highway. State-run buses have Fastag installed - that is the only luxury bus has seen in the recent past. Misleading milestones will put your arithmetic skills to test.   

The city of Aurangabad is very lenient and tolerant with flies, you’ll see them everywhere in bunches. The main and best way to get around the city is the ubiquitous auto-rickshaw. To get a feel of down-town and experience the local culture, head to  Aurangapura, Gul-mandi or Nirala bazaar markets. Nirala bazaar is the uptown market area and has some good vegetarian restaurants. Nearby is the Tilak road, housing one of the historical landmark - Paithan gate – the best place to shop footwear and clothing. A couple of shops offer Handloom Sarees. Bear in mind that not all sarees are locally woven, many come from other states. The speciality of Aurangabad is silk, so if you want something local, look for Himroo or Paithani. These are handwoven with intricate designs and best quality material used. Respect the effort and time spent for weaving, before whining about the price. 

Himroo fabrics give you a chance to watch live weaving – if you are lucky – and a decent selection of sarees, shawls and bedsheets. The store is opposite to another landmark “Jafar gate”. Out of fifty-plus gates, sadly a mere fifteen or so are remaining in the city. Many factories line the road towards Ellora offering to watch the weavers at work and many options to buy from. Within the city, choices might be scanty. 

A mausoleum built for his first wife - Bibi ka Maqbara- is the largest structure Aurangazeb had to his credit. Interestingly the architect is the son of the principal designer of Taj Mahal. It is then no wonder that Bibi ka Maqbara bears a striking resemblance to the Taj. The garden around the structure is a  nice place to stroll, however, it will be busy with the selfie-capturing populace.  Aurangabad is a good option to keep as a base to visit the remarkable Ajanta and Ellora caves.